Here’s something which so perfectly exemplifies the last seven-plus years of life in America under the yoke of Barack Obama that we hardly even need to make much comment about it.
Federal regulators were instructed to keep a massive fraud investigation under wraps until a day after a controversial vote to expand a program that was allegedly used to bilk taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, one those regulators claims.
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday announced that it would seek $51 million in damages from a cell phone company that allegedly defrauded the federal Lifeline program of nearly $10 million.
You read that correctly. It was more important to grow a giveaway program than to make sure the giveaways weren’t wasted. That’s a pretty egregious example of the federal government at work, but virtually every program is like this.
FCC spokesman Will Wiquist insisted that the timing was completely coincidental. “The timing of the enforcement action was in no way related to the timing of the vote on the program modernization,” he said in an email.
Lifeline has faced controversy over enrollment requirements that its critics say are too lax and vulnerable to fraud. The service, which subsidizes cell phone plans for low-income Americans, allows beneficiaries to enroll using cards issued for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a welfare program that has also faced fraud allegations.
Critics of the Lifeline program began calling its subsidized cell phones “Obamaphones” early in the Obama administration in response to viral YouTube videos of beneficiaries thanking the president for their free phones. The program was actually created under President Ronald Reagan.
The FCC’s NAL last week accused cell phone provider Total Call Mobile, which provides Lifeline services in 19 states, of “systematic and egregious misconduct” and “widespread enrollment fraud.”
According to the commission, Total Call employees enrolled tens of thousands of duplicate Lifeline beneficiaries and pocketed the extra subsidies. The FCC caught onto the scheme when the company enrolled an undercover FCC investigator in the program without asking for any eligibility documentation.
“Since 2014, Total Call has requested and received an estimated $9.7 million dollars in improper payments from the Universal Service Fund for duplicate or ineligible consumers despite repeated and explicit warnings from its own employees, in some cases compliance specialists, that company sales agents were engaged in widespread enrollment fraud,” the FCC said in a news release.
A common means of fraudulent enrollment was the repeated use of a single SNAP identification card, according to the FCC. That drew the ire of Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, who said the use of SNAP cards as Lifeline verification mechanisms is woefully inadequate.
The FCC has five members, and three of them are currently Democrats. That majority will insure whatever penalties arise from stealing your tax dollars in order to promote runaway growth of the Obamaphone program will be minor, and far less than the abusers of the program will have profited by their misdeeds.
Because growing the government is what’s important. Waste, fraud and abuse are an asset, not a liability. The more waste means the more inadequacy of the current amount of resources devoted to the “problem” the government is tasked to solve.
– Tim Tebow for Congress? Apparently, maybe.
The surprise retirement of a key Florida congressman has Republican strategists eager to give the ball to former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, according to several sources.
“We do not pick favorites,” said a key party strategist, but “obviously a huge Florida football star would be an interesting candidate for our side of the aisle.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Ander Crenshaw, 71, a House appropriator from Jacksonville, Fla., announced his plan to retire at the end of his term this year. It was not expected.
He recently expressed interest in an eventual political run. During his foundation’s recent Jacksonville golf tournament, the former Heisman Trophy winner was asked by Fox about politics and said, “If there’s a chance you can make a difference someday in something, then that would be intriguing.”
There is a temptation on the Right to make every cultural figure who isn’t a liberal a political figure, and this temptation is not a particularly good one. Tebow, currently, is a pretty good ambassador for Christianity who frankly has suffered a bit for his faith. Tebow wasn’t a great quarterback at the pro level, but he was no worse than a lot of other young QB’s who were able to stick around as backups for a few years and learn the ropes as an NFL passer. Would he ever have the accuracy necessary to become a decent starter in the league? That’s questionable. But the reason given by more than one NFL general manager who otherwise could have brought him aboard as a reserve was that his outspoken Christianity was a “distraction.”
It would probably be better for Tebow to succeed in some fashion as a cultural figure. As a politician we don’t even know if he’d be any good at his job. Does he understand free-market economics? Does he understand the legislative process? Does he truly understand the value of federalism and limited government?
Frankly, we’d like to see Tebow continue his efforts to become a cultural figure and leave elected office to people a little more boring. Especially if his congressional district is a relatively safe Republican one where somebody boring can win.
– You’re going to start hearing a lot about this “Puerto Rico bailout bill” in Congress at present. In Baton Rouge there are radio ads telling people to call Rep. Garret Graves’ office and stop him from voting for the bill. Those ads are running in places all over the country.
Rep. John Fleming has come out in a major way against the bill and in fact has blown the whistle on attempts to move it quickly through the House Natural Resources Committee.
Democratic support will be needed to make up for the loss of conservative Republicans who rebelled against the bill, calling it a “bailout,” and who accused their own leaders of trying to silence them by ordering them not to offer amendments or to demand a roll-call vote.
“In all my time in Congress, no one has ever asked me to do something quite like this,” said Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican. “This is the kind of ‘go along’ politics Americans and I are tired of. Any time we don’t have full transparency, we have a bad outcome.”
But nothing in Washington is ever really that simple.
Two separate sources we talked to in DC with knowledge of the bill say that House Speaker Paul Ryan was correct when he argued this week that the opposition to the Puerto Rico bill is actually being funded by Puerto Rico’s bondholders. They say that the bill is a lot less of a bailout than it is a cramdown, and that’s actually true. The bill draws heavily from Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy law and gives Puerto Rico the ability to restructure debt and make its creditors less than whole.
The question is whether the cramdown is the right answer. Ryan’s position, which our sources believe is correct, is that if the bill isn’t passed Puerto Rico becomes Greece, only with less resources than Greece had. It’s not a sovereign nation so it can’t apply to the International Monetary Fund, for example, and a debt crisis in Puerto Rico could turn into a humanitarian crisis. And should that happen, a full federal bailout of Puerto Rico is going to be the Democrats’ position – and any opposition to that will no doubt be cast as racism toward Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.
Graves’ position is he’s not for a bailout of Puerto Rico. He’s not interested in taxpayer money going there. He’d be willing to consider a bill that restructures Puerto Rican debt without a bailout. But the ads that are running which demand he oppose this bill come from an organization called The Center For Individual Freedom, a 501(c)4 which does some good work at times but is also known for some mercenary activity to keep the lights on. CFIF got started as an outfit funded by tobacco companies to fight government attempts to outlaw smoking, but has moved past that and now does some work for Karl Rove, among others.
CFIF doesn’t reveal its donors but has received grants from conservative groups American Action Network and Crossroads GPS, according to disclosures from those organizations.
CFIF dropped $900,000 on airtime on CNN, MSNBC and CNBC, plus more than $500,000 on D.C.-area broadcast and cable, and $86,000 on radio spots in Bishop’s district, as well as those of fellow committee members Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), according to data compiled for POLITICO by The Tracking Firm. The ads call the bill a bailout tantamount to allowing Puerto Rico to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy that would also open the door for states to follow suit — which proponents say is untrue. The spots urge viewers and listeners to contact their representatives.
The campaign takes the same position as hedge funds such as Aurelius Capital Management, Monarch Capital Group, Stone Lion Capital Partners, Davidson Kempner and Fundamental Advisors.
Monarch, Aurelius, Fundamental and Davidson Kempner declined to comment. The others didn’t respond to requests for comment.
All those bondholders got together and hired the DCI group to put together the effort to beat the bill, and got former Florida congressman Connie Mack to take over as the lobbyist on it.
The other organization trying to stop the Puerto Rico bill is 60 Plus, the senior citizens’ advocacy group which is working on becoming an AARP for non-socialists. 60 Plus is being accused of the same kind of mercenary thing CFIF seems to be doing, though they probably have a decent defense to that in that they have lots of members who would have invested in Puerto Rican bonds back when they were considered investment-grade.
And it ought to be noted that the plan isn’t a complete cramdown; it would protect the holders of Puerto Rican general obligation bonds while other debt instruments would be crammed down. Fundamental Advisors and Och-Ziff Capital Management, two firms who have apparently made Puerto Rico’s Democrat congressional representative Pedro R. Pierluisi and his investment-banker wife rich by taking colossal positions in Puerto Rican debt in the largest municipal junk bond sale in American history in 2014 (with the wife’s investment house based in San Juan pocketing huge commissions), hold general obligation bonds.
So Fundamental Advisors makes out either way. Either the bill passes and they’re protected, or it fails and there’s a full bailout and they’re protected. But if the bill passes, Pierluisi is a hero and he wins the gubernatorial election in Puerto Rico and Fundamental and Och-Ziff own the Puerto Rican governor the way Meyer Lansky owned Batista in Cuba.
The whole thing is greasy as can be, and what ought to happen is Puerto Rico’s crook politicians and the Wall Street dummies who bought their junk bonds deserve each others’ fates. But if you sit back and watch the whole thing burn, 3.5 million Puerto Ricans, who are our fellow American citizens, get to live in a Greece where they speak Spanish. And that will no doubt be blamed on the Republican Party.
Fleming’s instinct is the just one. Graves and Ryan might have the smarter position to take. There is no way to resolve the mess in Puerto Rico outside of “let it burn” without unjustly enriching someone.
Tebow wants to run for Congress and get enmeshed in this crap? What is he, stupid?
– And now for Today’s Last Thing: it’s a gator-eat-gator world.